For weeks, we have waited, hoping that the early July pattern of monsoon rain arrival would be repeated. It did not look promising. June was brutally hot and dry, clouds rare, winds fierce. The scrub oaks and manzanitas have shed most of their leaves; time will tell if they will all survive this challenge. Grasses were dry as tinder, nutritionless. Sprouting daturas withered and died except where we gave them water. We are the recipients of past pluvial generosity, siphoning water from underground stores without little thought of where that water has come from. But for now, sharing a little of that water with the other creatures that share our space seems like the right thing to do, since we have taken so much from the wild already.
Water set out for the local birds and mammals was eagerly sought by both. Our house became the oasis to which dozens of species flocked. Quail seemed to have had a good reproduction year, as at least a half dozen broods came in daily, but what would have happened without our water subsidy?
Quail brood at water dish
Rufous –crowned Sparrows, Crissal Thrashers, finches, towhees, and even woodpeckers—they all drank from our little pools in apparent harmony. Continue reading →
Nine months after the tragic Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, the event continues to touch many of us with a rawness only slightly softened by time. My memories remain vivid. With thunderstorm activity developing in the Prescott area that afternoon, I grabbed my camera and headed out to the Doce Fire area south of Granite Mountain. Fierce little rain squalls gave me subjects to explore visually. The powdered ash deposits post-fire are very vulnerable to erosion, a step in the ecologic process I wanted to capture.
June 20, 2013 rain on burned chaparral
Then as a squall shifted south, I could see in the distance a column of smoke that caused my hair to rise—it appeared to me that the small town of Yarnell was on fire. Without hesitation, I leaped into the car and shot toward Skull Valley, having to slow down once in the midst of an intense downpour. The closer I got to Peeple’s Valley, the more my concern intensified, and I made a decision that gave me a perfect vantage point on a ridge north of the fire. If I had continued any farther down the highway, I would have been stopped by emergency vehicles and stuck in a line of other cars prohibited from moving farther.
I remember as keenly as if it were still happening how, as I began to photograph the towering cloud of smoke, winds shifted, chilling me briefly with horizontal pellets of rain. A small herd of horses ran north to below my position. I continued to watch and document as the fire split into two fiery tongues—one right at Yarnell and another in rugged canyons in the Weavers to the west of the valley. Planes and helicopters appeared as tiny insects buzzing around the periphery of the towering giant. I watched until sunset, an eerie yellowish light bathing the entire scene, and I sensed that this would be a moment of tragic history. Continue reading →
Curiosity is a well-known field mark of a naturalist, and I have learned to indulge my curiosity when an opportunity arises. Some years ago, I stayed with friends in the Chiricahua Mountains of SE Arizona, one of the dramatic “sky islands” of the Southwest. Back in the cooler, wetter Pleistocene, the forests marched across the valleys, allowing free commerce for animals and plants among the ranges. As conditions warmed and dried, the forests retreated to higher elevations, trapping survivors on habitat islands. Continue reading →
Monsoon season in Arizona is a time of waiting and watching. Waiting for rain is like playing the lottery. Your odds improve after the 4th of July, but it’s still a roller coaster of optimism and disappointment.
This morning dawns with haze and humidity, and by 8 am, the sun’s direct rays drill into my shoulders like a laser beam. Decisions—do I water the outside plants or not? For days, the thunderheads have played with us, marching toward Granite Dells like an invading army, rumbling ominously and trailing sheets of rain, only to dissipate upon arrival. They act as if it was all bluster, threat, intimidation, then shrug a rounded shoulder, “Just kidding!” . . . It’s hard not to take it personally. Continue reading →